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 (Toll Free)

Writers once got their due on baseball cards

 

By Chris Olds | Beckett Baseball Editor | Commentary

One recent cardboard purchase of mine was done sight unseen without a card shop, eBay or a shred of league licensing involved.

It began with a random thought — “Does this person have a card?” — and after a search on Beckett.com an answer was in-hand but a set nowhere to be found. Fast forward a couple years later and curiosity grabbed at me once again prompting me to send an email asking someone what they knew, if they had, if available to buy, etc. You know, the typical transaction minutia.

What arrived in my hands last week turned out to be a surprisingly interesting card collection — the 1990 Little Sun Writers set, a small release of 24 glossy cards featuring guys you’ve likely not heard of unless you’re of a certain age or do a lot of reading and writing.

They’re cards of notable baseball writers — Major League Writers per the set’s full name.

Total Baseball's John Thorn poses for his card.

I’ll confess I didn’t seek out the set for its purest literary ties, but rather the only car in the Beckett database of a former minor league baseball player who made it up to the Triple-A level for the Baltimore Orioles before calling it quits. After that, he turned that knowledge of the game, that experience, into something that many a baseball fan likely does know — the tale of “Crash” Davis, Annie Savoy and “Nuke” LaLoosh, Bull Durham.

Yep, the Little Sun Writers set is home to the only cataloged baseball card of Ron Shelton.

For the film fans, that’s not the only card that might stand out on the checklist. It’s also got a card of W.P. Kinsella, whose book Shoeless Joe became Field of Dreams. It’s also home to a Mark Harris card, the creator of Bang The Drum Slowly, a 1973 film starring Robert DeNiro.

But beyond the film ties, the ties to the game are undeniable both in who is on the cards and the other facts presented on them. It’s a collection of historians, authors, sports writers and more. Card No. 2 of Henry Chadwick, an 1800s journalist who invented the box score and is “The Father of Baseball,” for example, also offers this trivia — the first baseball player autobiography was written by Cap Anson in 1900.

There’s actually even one baseball player included in this set, former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton, who wrote Ball Four in 1970. It was a bestseller that pulled back the curtain on the game with its “myth-breaking” and is still considered one of the most-important baseball books ever written.

Another card is for Robert Creamer, a veteran of Sports Illustrated from its beginning in 1954 until his retirement in 1985, while Baseball Ink founder and Total Baseball publisher John Thorn has a card as does Bronx Zoo author Peter Golenbock.  A pair of sportswriting legends, of course, are also included — Red Smith and Grantland Rice.

The final card in the set depicts Mike Shannon, the editor of Spitball, the leading literary baseball magazine, who wrote the card backs for 22 of the cards. His card was written by Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary, a nonprofit group that’s supported by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission for its dedication to exploring creations relating to baseball and its history.

A handful of writers and media personalities have appeared on sports cards in major releases during the 20-plus years since the release of this one, but few have offered as in-depth profiles of writers, their achievements and their contributions to the game. It would be interesting to see who might make the cut for an updated version of this set as — Jose Canseco for Juiced? — and there’s no doubt that the media landscape has changed dramatically since the time of this set’s release, but, for now, this is the only card set to take on the subject.

Because of that, this little set that cost less than a few packs of the new stuff has a place in my collection.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball magazine. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

5 Comments

Chris, I’ll swap you all my Nick and Steve Swisher dupes for your Henry Chadwick. :o)

Posted February 24, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink
zotster

Just bought this set myself a few months ago. Was buying something else and saw this in the seller’s store for about $4 and snagged it, since I’m a sports writer myself. I, too, was impressed by the history presented on the card backs. A very good case is made for the accomplishments of each person in the set, and you can’t help but come away with a much fuller impression of the impact each one had on the game.

For anyone who appreciates baseball history, this set is truly a must-have. With some looking, you should easily be able to find sets available for well under $10 online. This is also the type of set you might find in a bargain bin at a card show for a couple of bucks or so.

Posted February 25, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
chrisolds

I’ve only seen one on ebay in the last couple of years. (Not that I am regularly looking, but … it might not be as plentiful as we might presume for the era.)

Posted February 25, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
zotster

There’s one on there now with a starting bid of $99 – and it’s not even in very good condition! I must have snagged the last one at a reasonable price … couldn’t find any for sale elsewhere, either. Guess it’s not so easy to find, but it’s still probably something you might see in a bargain bin some day. I have a feeling this is one of those things that’s not offered for sale often simply because no one’s looking for it.

Posted February 25, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

Saw this set featured on the great hobby blog http://nightowlcards.blogspot.com/ not too long ago as well. Definitely a great set and fantastic to see some of these great writers and contributors make it onto cardboard. More proof that there is something for everyone in the collecting world.

Posted February 26, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

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